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Visual identity of Warsaw Central Station and Krzysztof Penderecki Academy of Music in Cracow are two examples of cooperative designs of Aneta Lewandowska and Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska. On a daily basis, Aneta and Joasia live in two different countries where they work as graphic designers.
Graduating from Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw as well as similar views on visual communication led to their remote collaboration on large projects. We talk about design, education, cities and taking time off.

Could you quickly define your profession?

Aneta Lewandowska: In a nutshell – graphic design. In a broader sense, I mainly work on branding projects, publication design, web design and occasionally illustration.

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: I do various things and I always find it hard to define. At the moment it’s mostly branding, web design and art direction. I also work on illustrations, photography and started learning type design. Recently, I co-designed an exhibition space, created content for social media and practiced calligraphy.
What would you call it?

To use a broad term, it would be visual communication.
This term stayed with me after graduating. We create, things and images that communicate something. They serve a certain function, content.

Cafe Ole
Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska i Aneta Lewandowska

What did your path in design education look like?

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: I wonder how honest and detailed I should be, because my education path was not an overnight success story. But maybe someone else out there struggled too and they will find some consolation in my story. Anyways, since childhood, I knew I wanted to do something creative so I took art classes, drew a lot, and art school was a natural choice. I started learning art history early on and in high school I took private painting and drawing courses to prepare myself for the exams. I have to say it was quite an expensive investment. At first, I wanted to study fashion design, then for a brief period I was fascinated by ceramics until my painting teacher showed me posters by Lex Drewiński and I decided to study graphic design. I wanted to change the world with social campaigns and thought-provoking posters – quite naive, but that’s how I felt.

I chose to study in Poznań because I really liked their Visual Communication department. I passed my exams with flying colors and was ready for the adventure of a lifetime. Unfortunately, it turned out that after high school I was totally unprepared for what awaited me at the academy. It was such a depressing experience that every day I considered dropping out because I was not “good enough”. In the first year, we had relatively little to do with graphic design, it was mainly traditional workshops such as lithography or metal techniques, where I was surprised by a rather toxic atmosphere or even contempt for many first-year students – who were generally young, sensitive people, just beginning their design education. I have to admit that these experiences and unrealistic demands quickly destroyed me. After a nightmarish year and barely passing, I moved back to my hometown to continue my studies there. For the first time I felt some kind of pleasure from design and I reassured myself this is what I wanted to do professionally.

After two years I moved again, this time to Warsaw, when I fell in love with professor Buszewicz’s Book Design Studio. It was a love and hate relationship and for a very long time I could not learn the design thinking required from the students (which, for example, was natural for Aneta). It was once again an incredibly demanding experience (or, you can say, torture) – many sleepless nights and an almost constant feeling of failure. At one point, I even tried to escape to yet another department, but I had to persist and find a way to cope with the situation. I take some comfort from the fact that my degree project, which took two years to complete and was very stressful, turned out to be a success and very much appreciated by the university. I just don’t know if a Master’s degree is worth sacrificing your mental health, and if I were to choose my studies again, it probably wouldn’t be any art school in Poland.

But education doesn’t end with a degree. I can still see areas where I should develop, e.g. in theory and history of graphic design, or typography, for instance. On the other hand, I think that this is the beauty of our profession: you can always learn something new, improve your technique and become better.

Aneta Lewandowska: My path of design education was quite convoluted ? As a kid I loved everything manual drawing, sticking, gluing, painting etc. However, these were not targeted activities, but more a form of leisure. It was only when I was choosing a secondary school that I decided to choose an art profile, but it was still a general school and there were not many art classes. In my final year of high school I was sure that I wanted to pursue a creative career, but at the time almost every course at the Academy of Fine Arts seemed attractive. My first choice was interior design, but I didn’t get accepted. This failure was a huge lesson in humility for me. I took a year off after my final year of high school to catch up and I attended daily drawing and painting classes at Dom Kultury (DK) in Muranów, where I had my first professional preparation for the Academy of Fine Arts exams.

After failing the exam for the second time, I started studying Art Education. Continuing classes at DK and studying changed my focus. It was then that I began to consider that perhaps I would find what I was looking for at the Faculty of Graphic Arts. After a visit to the faculty I felt enlightened and was sure that graphic design was exactly what I was looking for. To conclude this long story, I managed to get into the Faculty of Graphic Arts in Warsaw the second time around. In hindsight, I know that this complicated path was necessary, it made studying graphic design a little more mature and easier. After the first year I had to to choose a specialisation and, just like Joasia, I was completely lost after visiting the book design studio. I still remember seeing the designs for the bread recipe cookbook at the final year exhibition. It was a wonderful experience! The number of creative, varied and often humorous solutions was definitely what I was looking for. At that time there was no sign and visual communication studio where one could earn a degree, so the book studio had no rival ?

Apart from classes at the Academy of Fine Arts, design competitions were a very important educational factor for me. I treated taking part in competitions as training, confronting my own design skills with those of other participants and how differently everyone interprets the same brief is still a very cool form of learning.

Gulliver’s Travels
Aneta Lewandowska
Strange city
Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska

What experiences were missing in your curriculum that later turned out to be important or even crucial in the world outside the walls of the academy?

Aneta Lewandowska: For me, just like Joasia said, the typeface design studio is an unforgettable loss. Similarly, there was no degree program for the Visual Identity Studio, and they only offered a two-year non-degree program. As far as I remember, there have been changes since, and it looks a bit different, but in our times we had to acquire the remaining knowledge on our own, usually through practice. Apart from the lack of design subjects, there was a definite lack of pragmatic knowledge about our profession: how to find your way in the market, how to win commissions, how to prepare a portfolio or what are the rates for design work. The latter is often shrouded in mystery in the design community to this day. It’s nice that there are more and more interviews with designers, where specific answers are given.

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: I felt, above all, that the pedagogical skills of many teachers were sort of lacking. I know that everyone had different experiences, but, as you can see, personally I’m still a little traumatized after my studies, which deprived me of the joy of creation for a pretty long time.

On a more concrete note, I would say there was a bit too much emphasis on art classes (such as classical drawing and painting), and not enough on actually learning the craft. Also, no one really talked about any practical aspects of the profession, like fees, studio management, collaboration or how to prepare a portfolio. Maybe the art school is not a place to gain such practical knowledge, but this information was certainly lacking afterwards.

I also regret that there was no typeface design studio at our academy in Warsaw back when we were studying.

You work together even though you live in different places. Tell us a bit about how it works. 

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: It came naturally, and many years ago, even before the pandemic, we started working remotely. We are the forerunners of remote work and masters of sharing feedback on Google Hangouts ? Like mentioned before, we met in the Book Design Studio at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, we also attended professor Januszewski’s Illustration Studio and Grażka Lange’s typography classes, so we had a similar approach to design. It was easy to start working together, because we knew what to expect from each other.

Our first joint project was Warszawa Centralna. At that time we were still partially working in the same city, only later I moved to Berlin permanently. Since then we’ve been communicating online, and for a few years now, we’ve been working mostly in Figma, which makes our lives a lot easier.

Aneta Lewandowska: Perhaps the fact that we’ve never had the opportunity to work desk to desk in the long term helps. When we started working remotely our main form of communication was an online chat, Zoom was not yet mainstream, so now that we have a full range of possibilities we can’t complain 🙂  Another advantage is that our perception of the world and our approach to design are quite in sync, which certainly makes communication easier. Despite the distance, it often happens that we write the same thought in one minute, which proves that we understand each other quite well.

What is the biggest challenge in working together?

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: I think there are way fewer challenges now than at the beginning. Maybe we are more mature, or maybe after a dozen or so projects we understand each other better. Before, it was sometimes challenging to combine our different ideas and concepts for the project. We are both strong willed and want to make our own visions come to life, and sometimes that’s not possible as a duo. What sometimes helped, was to assign one of us to lead the project – this person would have the final say, but often we still managed to work out a consensus. Besides, we have different experiences and strengths, so we complement each other. We also work on a lot of separate projects, which allows us to express ourselves outside of working together.

Aneta Lewandowska: I would also add a distance between us, not the one that divides us ? but the one that allows us to look at things from a different perspective and maintain our friendly relationship despite some difficult moments at work. I have the impression that as time goes by it gets easier and the biggest crises are behind us.

Living in different places, you probably have different views on visual communication – please share your perspectives. Do you agree with the statement that our surroundings influence our sense of aesthetics?

Aneta Lewandowska: Sure, the environment we live in influences us. Poland is a very specific country but I cannot say for sure that Warsaw has shaped me in terms of visual communication. I have the impression that just a few years ago the places we live in had a much bigger impact. Today, thanks to the internet, we can easily keep up to date with what’s going on in the world. My perspective on visual communication has changed over the years, but this is the result of many factors. The city is probably one of them, but not dominant in my opinion.

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: I definitely agree with this statement and I think that our surroundings affect not only the sense of aesthetics but probably the whole quality of life. My perspective was shaped largely by the Polish public space, which, in general, is quite chaotic.

I grew up in Łódź, a rather harsh place, but Berlin is not a perfect city either… (Sorry, sometimes I can be a bit pessimistic). It has its moments, like every place, but I wonder if they are necessarily related to visual communication. Probably it has more to do with the architecture, i.e. in Berlin the streets are alive as you walk by them. Maybe what makes it different from Polish cities is also the interweaving of even more different languages and definitions of beauty? Alongside the hip third-wave cafés (that we also know from Warsaw), there are Turkish hair salons with crystal chandeliers and Eckkneipen – typical corner bars that still remember the times of East Germany. My main reflection is that every bubble has its own aesthetic, which we should not judge or compare, and visual communication is only an indication of their identity.

On the other hand, where we live is only one factor that influences our sense of aesthetics, because art education can be received from many different sources. For me, as I was growing up, these interests were formed mainly through illustrated books, cinema, and local children’s theater. And above all, by inspiring people from my surrounding who showed me the world of art and instilled me with the love of creating.

Are the cities in which you currently live changing? Have you noticed any positive trends? Something you would like to see more of?

Aneta Lewandowska: Warsaw is definitely developing nicely. Of course, there are still situations in which large stretches of green land are destroyed and only a few years later reclaimed and the importance and influence of nature on our everyday life is appreciated. Apart from this, I am very pleased with the number of events that the city offers throughout the year.

In Warsaw, for example, I really appreciate the ways in which the city office communicates visually with the public in recent years. It’s a nice feeling when, while walking down the street, taking public transport or strolling along the Vistula river, one can see nice posters, educational or informational campaigns. This is certainly a good example for other cities that this type of activity can be successfully carried out at a global level, which undoubtedly has a positive impact and shapes the taste of young generations. I would definitely like to see more of these kinds of initiatives, even on a lower level, like individual city districts.

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: Berlin is becoming gentrified, but there are still some more or less “authentic” places here, full of street art, graffiti, etc. Many movements actively opposed the closing of squats or famous clubs, but they rather failed to stop these changes. From a purely aesthetic point of view, I’m actually happy about the renovation of old tenements or an occasional visit to a hip restaurant. I’ve even had to admit to myself that I’d rather live in posh Prenzlauer Berg over the tough neighborhood of Kottbusser Tor, but unfortunately I can’t afford it. Ironically enough, it’s part of gentrification – what can you do ?‍♀️

As for the visual communication itself, I think that in Berlin (and surrounding Brandenburg) there is definitely less visual chaos like illegal advertisements or flashy signs, but it also depends on the district.

The BVG (public transport company), for example, does some nice campaigns – they are full of subversive, local humor, self-ironic and always on point. So even if you don’t get on a crowded subway, at least you can laugh about it. I’ve also noticed that German adverts are much more text-based, those billboards you often have to read rather than watch.

But you asked about positive changes and what we would like to see more of. I think I would like to see more order (so German of me) and a general improvement of the public space, not just visual communication. My boyfriend and I are most looking forward to the almost utopian project called Flussbad Berlin – the transformation of part of the Spree canal into an urban swimming pool, with water filtered through reeds. It looks amazing on the visualisations, but will probably take ages until it’s actually realized. So for now we just go there for walks and use our imagination.

Doodle Land
Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska

Sketching, what role does it play in your creative process?

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: We have been taught that sketching is almost a mandatory point in the design process, but I don’t apply this rule fanatically. It’s certainly useful for illustration, or when we want to explore an idea quickly. But to be honest, I’m currently taking more notes than sketching.

Aneta Lewandowska: As Joasia mentioned, indeed our education was very much based on sketching / hand drawing. For me it is a very important medium, mainly for logo design. I always test and come up with logos in my notebook and only then work out the details in the digital space. However, when designing publications or illustrations, sketching is more of a compositional note. I am definitely not one of those people who have beautifully outlined sketchbooks.

Aneta Lewandowska

In retrospect, could you say a few words about the identity project for Warszawa Centralna?

Aneta Lewandowska: I look back on the Warszawa Centralna project with a lot of sentiment, as it was our first large and serious project. It’s obvious that today, with more experience, we would do many things differently, but I think that despite the fact that 7 years have passed, the project still withstands the test of time. Even today, we have a slight regret that we didn’t get to implement all the designed identification elements. In hindsight, I can say that at the time it was disappointing, but ultimately it was a lesson in life. Today, it’s definitely easier for me to accept the fact that I don’t have influence on everything.

However, the greatest value for me that the project has brought is the deepening of our friendship. Despite bigger and smaller disputes and difficulties, it was nice to experience this adventure together. This cooperation has undoubtedly influenced the shape of our collaboration today.

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: I still think there was a lot of potential in this project, and it’s a shame that due to the change of management’s strategy our cooperation with Warszawa Centralna ended at the stage of first prototypes.

Warsaw Central Station
Aneta Lewandowska i Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska

How do you escape, catch a breath from design? What is your vent?

Aneta Lewandowska: Until a few years ago I would have said sports. I used to cycle a lot to relieve stress. One of the most enjoyable cycling trips was between Berlin and Copenhagen. I have very fond memories of that trip, even though the preparations for it started and ended only with taking a spare inner tube for my bike.

Paradoxically, while cycling I often came up with solutions to many design problems, so it was a combination of the fun and useful 🙂 My current escape is working on a small plot of land I bought about a year and a half ago. I’ve spent almost every summer weekend getting my hands dirty in the garden. It’s not exactly a nice chill in a hammock, but rather trimming, cutting, planting, digging etc. You can get really tired, and at the same time it’s nice to watch the progress of work in a completely different space than the digital one.

Another very important distraction for me is traveling. I love to go out and visit new countries. The trips are quite intense, I never stay in one location for more than 1-3 days, which can be tiring for some. When I travel I always focus on nature and cool sights that are not always easy to get to.

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: I wish I had a more ambitious answer to this question, but if I’m being honest, for the past few years (which have been quite intense work-wise), my main escape has been Netflix. Alternatively, when I have more free time and energy, I like taking photos as a hobby or working on personal illustrations. I also find it very helpful to completely cut myself off from work for at least a week, but I can only afford this luxury once or twice a year.

There is a belief (I think!) that the ultimate goal is to work for cultural institutions. Is this also your experience?

Aneta Lewandowska: Working for the cultural sector has always seemed like a ‘dream come true’ for designers, mainly because of the specific audience. The project doesn’t necessarily have to satisfy the mainstream, and clients also tend to appreciate design a bit more. However, like Joasia, I have professional experience in both commercial work and work for cultural institutions. For me, every commission, regardless of whether it’s commercial or cultural, is another challenge, a design puzzle and a thrill of excitement. It’s nice if you can learn something from it, make progress and draw conclusions for the future.

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: I think I never worked for a typical cultural institution, but I’ve also heard such rumors and it’s long been a dream of mine. My experience is much more commercial, and at the beginning of my career I was quite frustrated and disappointed with it. But now I see many upsides to the situation. Every project teaches you something and I treat all collaborations equally. Besides, lately, I’ve been enjoying working on personal projects the most. I hope to one day make it a more significant part of my job.

Krzysztof Penderecki Academy of Music in Cracow. What was the most difficult for you in this project?

Aneta Lewandowska: Finding the balance between our vision and the rather conservative (at least initially) approach of the Academy. Of course, this is only our perspective, because we’ve heard that the choice of the Academy is seen as progressive, and it’s hard not to agree with that. Against the background of Polish universities, both private and public, there aren’t many bold solutions for visual identification, so now, looking at the whole thing from the perspective of over six months of cooperation, the final outcome is satisfying.

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: At the beginning we were worried that working remotely between Krakow, Warsaw and Berlin might be problematic for such a traditional institution. It’s definitely easier to talk during meetings face to face, but we managed to work out a system of communication and complete the project despite the pandemic. Perhaps our previous experience in remote working helped.

Aneta Lewandowska i Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska

Design vs implementation, can you share any experiences from previous projects? What is the role of the designer after the design stage? Is there any place at all for such work / supervision?

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: In our experience, moving from idea to execution can be a key moment. Sometimes the production budget can be a bit of an issue and the client might decide to cut back.

Obviously, the role of designers can vary at this stage, in my opinion it all depends on the scope of the contract and the client’s needs. The best thing for projects is close cooperation until the very end, and even afterwards – if the client is open to an audit, for example.

Aneta Lewandowska: We try to think about implementation at every stage of the project process, because many production aspects influence or can influence the final shape of the project, and not everything is always included in the brief. We also try to support clients / customers even if it is outside the scope of the contract. This definitely increases the chances of a satisfactory final result for both parties. Such a full dimension of cooperation gives satisfaction as well as increases the potential for further future cooperation.

Do you remember any project, say from this year, that made an impression on you?

Aneta Lewandowska: Unfortunately, I have a problem with choosing the “best thing”, and this applies to almost every area of life. There are so many great projects that it’s hard to pick just one. However, the book “Quarks, Elephants & Pierogi: Poland in 100 Words” stands out. The author of the illustrations and graphic design is Magda Burdzyńska. For me, it is a total project, every detail has been thought through. In addition to the book, wonderful promotional gadgets were created, as well as the scenography, which creates an amazing atmosphere and completes the entire publication. This is a spectacular project, which required courage, not only on the part of the designer, but also great openness on the part of the client. I wish there were more such events on the Polish design scene.

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: What I love the most are projects which give food for thought, but I am also regularly impressed by simply beautiful visual solutions. To give examples, the project by Ada Zielińska and Patryk Hardziej for Gdynia Design Days comes to mind, because I am interested in the activities of our industry that reduce the negative impact on the environment. As a counterbalance, Le Puzz puzzles by Little Troop from Australia – a branding that is very playful, fun, and at the same time not too obvious and maybe even a bit different from what we see on our local design scene.

Aneta Lewandowska i Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska

Can you give some advice for young designers looking for their direction, their language in visual communication design? How to look at designs on the internet to benefit from it and not hurt themselves?

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: The need to find “my own style” can still keep me up at night, and during my studies and right after I graduated it almost paralysed me from doing anything. So my advice is to not think about your own style, whether you have it or not, but to just try things out. Do a lot, experiment, don’t be afraid to change techniques, tools, subjects, don’t listen to your teachers or other people giving you advice ? I can only talk from my own experience and with the reservation that I’m still “searching” – sometimes it’s the technique that can give you the answer, other times it’s the conceptual approach to a subject that determines the style. And sometimes it’s a matter of chance or some kind of predisposition. Most importantly, allow for inconsistency and mistakes, especially at the beginning.

I also like it when the design solution or style is somehow relevant to the topic, results from it or, on the contrary, starts a discussion with the subject. If something makes sense on the conceptual level, then it is easier to avoid unnecessary copying of other people’s solutions or superficial duplication of trends. But of course, as designers, we need to know what is going on and be up to date, because our work can get easily outdated.

Aneta Lewandowska: Whether or not to watch design on the internet is definitely a matter of individual preference. It’s worth listening to yourself and not succumbing to the pressure of the environment. Portals like Instagram and Behance are great, but they can also overwhelm. Everyone has an individual way of working and in the whole process and development it is very important not to drown out your intuition. It’s important to remember that there is no one right solution to a particular design problem. As many designers, as many solutions.

Does graphic design educates? Or is it a utopia?

Aneta Lewandowska: In my opinion it definitely does. I think it works quietly and often subconsciously. What we absorb visually has a huge impact not only on our perception of the world, but also on our everyday functioning. It stimulates our imagination, determines our choices and what we surround ourselves with. Of course, it is difficult to clearly assess the impact of design, because it certainly depends on many factors, such as sensitivity.

Changing the point of view from a recipient to a creator, graphic design constantly educates. In order to design any object, be it a full visual identity or just a series of posts for social media, a designer needs to deepen or learn about a particular topic from scratch. Education is undoubtedly inherent in this profession and is probably one of the factors that makes it so attractive.

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: I would like to think so, although it depends on whose education you are asking about. As Aneta mentioned, answering pragmatically – design certainly educates designers because you often have to become a specialist, or at least someone well versed in the field you are designing for. And that is the most fascinating thing about this job, the possibility to broaden your own horizons. I also think that design has an educational potential when it comes to tackling socially or politically important issues. It can make certain complicated issues clearer for the viewer. And in the case of general art education… It can certainly accustom the eye to harmony, visual order, or hierarchy of information. And perhaps later, one subconsciously looks for this harmony in other aspects of life, at least those connected with aesthetics, visual aspects. But I don’t know what is the effect and what is the cause, i.e. whether one needs to have specific predispositions or a well-developed perception to appreciate design (or art in general), or whether it is thanks to being surrounded by good projects that we somehow develop a general sensitivity. After all, I would like design, even in its modest scope, to be a tool for changing the world for the better, and design education can be a good start.

Two final questions, do you collect anything?

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: I collect books. Literally – lately I mainly buy and don’t read, so this verb is very appropriate.

Aneta Lewandowska: Like Joasia, I collect books. Probably this is the aftermath of graduating from a book design studio. It’s hard not to be saturated with love for books when you have such professors as Maciej Buszewicz and Grażka Lange. A book as a total object always makes an impression on me and I think that this will not change.

What are your favorite things to eat in winter?

Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska: In winter (and pretty much at any time of the year) I most like to eat ramen. So far the best is the one from Vegan Ramen Shop in Warsaw, but I am still looking for its equivalent in Berlin or in moments of desperation I cook from Jadłonomia’s recipes.

Aneta Lewandowska: Anything warm? I don’t have a favourite winter dish. I really like to cook if time allows me. I recommend smoked pierogi leniwe with roasted sage butter, pulled mozzarella / burrata with a handful of roasted nuts, e.g. pecans or hazelnuts, and you’re done. Quite often I make this dish with different ingredients, you can add tomatoes or roasted pumpkin, it’s all a matter of your imagination.

Aneta Lewandowska on Behance
Joasia Fidler-Wieruszewska on Behance

Header set in Fason typeface 🙂